Tuesday, May 8, 2012

One Right Way to Work a Horse–Day Three

I stare blankly, horrified, at the beautiful grulla filly in front of me. She is unhappily, magically changing shape. The head is raising, again. The neck is tight, muscles bunched there and in her rump. She doesn’t look like a carousel horse yet but she is on her way.

Day three- I wake before the alarm, as I have every day this weekend. This day, though, my heart is pounding with joy and anticipation. It is MY turn to ride my filly!! My turn to feel the wonder of making those gorgeous changes that I have been watching Steven make with her the past couple of days. I can do it! I know I can! Do Less! It’s there in my head like a mantra. Outside hind foot!

Once she is truly balanced, through moving her feet in the right way, she will feel better, be relaxed and we will ride off into happy clinic sunset together.

I check with Peter. Saddle her on the wall? Yep. That is what I do and it goes pretty good. She’s not quite as easy in her skin as I would like her to be but it’s light years away from the LAST time I threw that chunk of wood and dead leather up there . . .

Steven has a different horse this morning, a rescued OTTB named Shaun. That horse has a really amazing story all of his own.

http://horsetalk.co.nz/2012/05/08/shaun-makes-new-friend-in-western-journey/  I highly recommend taking the time to check it out. Heartwarming to say the least.

After saddling, I respectfully ask Peter what next. He says to move her around some, over there on the wall. Okay.

Steven hands me a flag, as I don’t  have one of my own, and I do that. A few times. She moves over pretty freely, and I think she looks fine. I glance over, Peter is in conversation with someone else. I am a tryer, and I figure, what the heck, I think she’s ready and I take her off the wall to continue on with my brand new program.

Except. I can’t think of a single new thing to do. My mind is blank, except for “do less.” So I send her around me, looking for all four parts to be reaching equal, and I think about doing less. I do not, apparently, do that. She is worried, and gets increasingly so as we progress.

I used the flag, ground to shoulder, tap the top of the saddle to see how concerned she might be about someone stepping up into the stirrup, how she feels about noise and movement up there behind her head. She is not happy, but I don’t get the feeling it’s the flag that is the problem and I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT.

Photo by Debbie Johnson

Riata and I, day three by Debbie Johnson

Steven glances at me, “how are you feeling about her, Ter?” I think I'm okay, I answer . . . She seems more or less all right . . . She doesn’t. He knows she doesn’t, I know she doesn’t but I am stuck. Trapped in my head and I can’t seem to find a way out . . .

Peter cuts the music he starts our day with each morning and we stop doing whatever it is we are about and turn to pay attention to the morning “get ready” talk.

Suddenly, he’s saying “if you ask me a question, and then you go ahead and do something else, next time you ask me a question, I might just turn around and walk away. If you do the same old shit, you will get the same old result. Don’t waste my time . . .”

there is more, but all I can do is stand there and will the ground to open up and swallow me. Now there may have been more than one of us who asked him how to proceed and then did what we thought we should do instead, I cannot speak to that. I damn sure knew he was at least talking to me, and I was sick inside. Do the same old shit, you will get the same old result.

That was the last thing that I wanted but it was the first thing that I did. He continues to address us about different parts of horsemanship, it’s everything I have come there to learn and it’s washing over me in waves. My brain is getting numb and I am having difficulty focusing. I am on overload. So unhappy with myself, I can hardly get out of my own way to keep listening.

Then it is “lady with the grulla horse! Yes, YOU. You tell me she bucks and runs off right?” I nod numbly, “well put your lead rope in BOTH hands how about, so she doesn’t do that right this minute, okay!”

Okay. I want to say something like, she isn’t going to, she’s fine, she’s content, but I know better than to voice my “opinion.” And then, I think of all the times she has taken me by surprise, when I think things are fine, and WHOOPS they sure the heck are not, and dammit there she goes again.

Here I am, listening intently but about to rightfully get in trouble. Photo by Karen Johnson

Getting places with Riata

I put my rope correctly into both hands. I nod my head and smile grimly. Thank you, Peter!

Photo by Karen Johnson


Time to ride. I look at her warily. Moment of truth. I gather up my gear, keeping my mecate and my rein in my left hand, and bend her a little to get on her. If she leaves, I still want to know what direction she is going to be headed . . . or so I think.

She tolerates me getting up there, and I feel her a little tight but not bad. I step her off and we both relax. A little. Breathe, Terri.

Peter has us head off to the right of the arena. We fall into place and I am feeling better about things. I messed up the groundwork boy howdy, but I can learn, I will learn and I didn’t set her back too far because I am up here and she is not trying to kill me.  Things are looking a little brighter.

I STILL cannot seem to remember to keep my lead rope in both hands! I am so glad Peter was somewhere else . . . or maybe he just tired of saying the same old thing, over and over again to unlistening ears . . .

Day Three, my turn to ride and I am so excited about the changes my horse is making by Colleen Hamer

Riata has been fighting contact all weekend. She never used to but she never used to do a lot of the stuff that caused us to make an emergency run to Archie Mo and Mr. Campbell.

I pride myself on my ability to soften a horse. I pride myself on my ability to bring a horse down and get them to relax. Soft and quiet, that is what I am known for. . . my mind skips quickly to Royal, who is neither except when he chooses to be,  to Soxie who is quiet but hangs 500 lbs of head and neck onto your hands any time you will let him . . . Focus Terri, better ride the one you are on and worry about those others a different day . . .

I attempt to have a discussion with her, not an argument but asking her to give lightly to the feel of the bit in her mouth, my hands taking contact to bump her a little as she pushes through it. Angry head tossing is the answer I get. That quarter inch of slack only shows up on the downward bounce and it is quickly gone again.

I breathe. I loosen my hips and move with my horse. At least I am riding her loosely, I think, not all tight, like Colleen was worried I would . . . I think this with my biceps and lower arms stiff as a board and I know the look of concentration on my face probably made most people think I was mad as hell. I wasn’t. I was upset with myself that I could not get through to my horse in the meaningful way I had been dead sure that I would.

Riata really does pretty well through all this. She’s not about to give me a soft feel, except every once in awhile, and we lose it fast. She pushes on me and is crooked in her stops, like Steven warned me she would be, after watching her be crooked in our groundwork. I saw it too, but had zero idea what to do about it, as every method, every touch on the halter rope, every attempt to time the cue to the footfall made things worse instead of better. I was lost.

“Relax!” Steven whispers as he rides by on the big bay Thoroughbred. Shaun has spent most of the morning in the middle as apparently his race horse training did not do much to prepare him for life as a western saddle horse. The fact that his last ride was his last RACE back in ‘07 might have had something to do with that as well.

Shaun, first time feeling a western saddle. Photo by Debbie Johnson

The OTTB, by Debbie Johnson

Peter has worked his magic through Steven’s willing and capable hands and now they are riding into the mix with the rest of us. “Relax” he says “You are doing okay, you guys are okay.”

I nod stiffly. I AM relaxed, dammit!

She pulled on me. She trotted through my hands. She did not explode and buck me into pieces. My sole goal that morning had been to survive the ride and not get into too much trouble. I managed the first part but it was time to set some different goals.

A certain part of the deal was the emotional turmoil I was carrying in my heart and in my stomach. The decision had been made. Riata was going to stay with Steven in Kansas instead of coming back to Nebraska with me. I think Peter thought I was bailing on the horse until I explained things a little to him in a private conversation.

It was nothing of the sort. I live 25 miles away from where this horse is boarded. I work two jobs and one of them is at a ranch 12 miles from me where my other horse is recuperating from an injury and he will probably stay there the better part of the summer til my job there is done.

Peter had mentioned I would be fine with the filly if I just took her home and rode her, but not to ride when no one else was around. It was fairly normal for me to be alone with her down there, and the hours I work and travel make it very difficult to get anything like consistency with her. I am well aware I am responsible for the choice I am about to make next. “I had to, I had no choice” does not live in my vocabulary.

There are a lot of things I would have to do to make things work for Riata. Move her closer. Sell my other horse to free up more time, things that were just not going to happen. I talk to Steven as I am solid in my belief even at my best he will do more and go further with her than I would, the deal is struck and what is done is done. Doesn’t make it easy, doesn’t make me not want to break down and cry every time I look at her, and now I am on her, and I still feel like I am failing her, and myself.

All this is rolling through my mind and my guts and it’s really no wonder our ride was not much good. We did some things, got along a little but again, that big change I was hoping to see in my horse? Far from it.

Until you feel it, you cannot understand it. You won’t.” Peter is talking about the changes that happen in the horse, in the human, the deep and internal changes we make when we follow this horsemanship in it’s truest form. I get that. At least the not understanding part. I get the “you will understand it when you feel it” too. I HAVE actually felt some of these things before, had glimpses of it last Fall, Riata moving free and willing under me, laughing as Peter calls 911 jokingly (I think) into his mic when I go loping off across the arena for our photographer. The joy, the lightness of being, I have been somewhere at least in the neighborhood of all that!

This is Riata and I, riding in Horsemanship 1, last Fall in Elkhorn NE.  We felt fabulous together and it was our last truly good ride

Photo by Steadman Ulrich

Ri and I, better days


I am troubled and disturbed. Steven tries to talk to me about what he saw go on. I think he saw the wall behind my eyes and gave it up as a bad job. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to hear him, wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted to make a good ride on Riata, I damn sure did, both of those things, but I was stuck . . .

I need to mention that at these clinics, I am in the company of some of the most quality horse people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. I am still completely grateful that some of them took the time to talk to me, to try to help me come through.

One of these was Donnie Eastwood. One of the “Donnies.” I sat by him during the afternoon session. Steven was back out there, on Shaun, and when he first rode out to take his turn at hindquarter, front end with the cow I had to look twice to see what the heck horse is he on NOW. It was that beautiful TB, finding a soft feel and looking fabulous.

Shaun and Steve, a mere few hours into his first ride in years. Photo by Debbie Johnson


“Do you notice,” Donnie says “that Steven never gives that horse a chance to pull on him? Never gives him an opportunity to get upset. Some other person might get on that horse and get to” he picks up both hands and mimics a rider working the bit  . . . hmm, that looked familiar . . . oohhhh. I nod. I do notice, and I watch close. Donnie continues to once in awhile gently make a comment, and I am pretty sure he is directly addressing my less than successful attempt with Riata.

Can I tell you how amazingly fortunate I feel that he took that time? I listened and I listened hard.

Later on, while dumping the wheelie barrow, the other Donnie took some time too. I mention that I am NOT bailing on my horse and he gives me a quizzical look. “Never thought that” he says, “not all horses are for all people.” I want to explain, that no, she is for me, plenty all right, but you know circumstances and yah yah. I mention my other horse and allow as he needs all the time I can give him, no gentle flower, he either, but so far, I can stick with whatever he’s thrown at me and I am not afraid to go on with him.

Donnie turns. He says something I don’t quite hear, and I nod anyway, as I will do sometimes when that happens, rather than admit the noise in my head is loud and sometimes I cannot hear over the clatter. Finally as he is obviously waiting for a more intelligent response, I say, “I am sorry, what?”

And he says “then maybe what you need to do is figure out what to do so that that horse doesn’t ever need to act like that, ever again. Maybe you will have better success with him. If you’d thought like that, maybe you would have had better success with this one.” He smiles kindly and is off to his host duties.

Donnie Chalufas and PreacherDonnie Chalufas and Preacher

photo by Karen Johnson

I am standing there dumbfounded. Well yeah. . . obviously right? No. Not obvious to me, not at all. I am all about CORRECTING BEHAVIOR AFTER IT HAPPENS, NOT EVEN THINKING IN TERMS OF DIRECTING . . .

I did not know that. I swear as the day is long if you would have asked me I would have told you a lie about that and not known I was telling it.

I had a lot to think about. And that was Day Three.


Carri said...

love you sis.... I guess if I can't get a happy ending... a lesson is just as good! Thank you for sharing and growing in front of us all... Hugs and more hugs to you...

Good Hands said...

Hang in there, it is darkest before the dawn. Day Four is coming . . .

Anonymous said...

I'm very much enjoying your write up and can't wait for the next installment. You seem to have been with a group of really good, really kind (in the right way - willing to tell the truth) horse people.

Good Hands said...

Yes. I count the company I was able to keep as a huge part of the unexpected gifts that were found there.